Sunday, September 28, 2008

Down The Rabbit Hole

What always amazes me about London is the multitude of interlocking events happening at any given moment. It’s a great asset to know there’s always something to do, but at the same time it’s terrifying; at the southbank, I never want to go home. I could listen to the buskers all day, walking the length of the Jubilee Bridge taking in classical violin, steaming hot sax jazz, tropical steel drums, or the sad penny whistle of the homeless hunched in a corner by the stairs. There’s all the live theatre jazz, the ‘Watch this Space’ motifs, publicity stunts, extreme skateboarders, and a full programme of all kinds of theatre.

Yesterday, it was hard not to notice the hundreds of participants of the Urban Rat Race that came darting through the crowds, pausing to consult their maps and stare pensively in all directions. This UK initiative takes adventure sports to the streets of cities. Only learning the course hours before the event, teams face multi-disciplined challenges including, biking, climbing, running & kayaking.

As for my adventure, I went ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ at the Oxo Tower Bargehouse; a new production by ‘Let’s Paint the Town Red,’ whose mission statement is to explore spaces for performance in & around London and bring them to life. The Bargehouse was a fantastic location for just this. An old Victorian warehouse, all decrepit and rusty and often used as a gallery space for various art colleges. The concept for the show was loosely based on Alice & Wonderland, taking the audience down the rabbit hole and into the strange world Alice confronts in Caroll’s famous novel. Somehow, however the show didn’t quite live up to the copy on the back of the flyer which promised ‘alternative puppetry’ and ‘absurd encounters,’ and what we were faced with was a disjointed journey, part through darkness & tunnels, and part through underused white washed rooms with tiny and pointless art installations.

What I felt was needed was far more acting. Site specific theatre can sometime run amok by losing its audience through selling far too many tickets and one of the great benefits of Punchdrunk’s ‘Faust’ was its intimacy and the chance of more encounters with the actors. Something with they continued with ‘Masque of the Red Death’ that saw myself dragged off to a broom cupboard to hold a skull and listen to Latin whispers from a woman doing headstands in the corner. These are moments of a true twisted imagination – the ones that catch you off-guard and leave the back of your neck tingling as if you’ve had a good massage.

Although not trying to be exactly like Punchdrunk, and have more focus on art & installation pieces, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ felt lazy; the actual art was underused, and hastily put together, and a partnership with cinematic illustration innovators, ‘Paper Cinema’ felt more a showcase for their work than anything to do with Lewis Caroll’s twisted world. The performance I saw also integrated a heavy rock band that had little relevance with anything Alice related, and left me disorientated at what seemed to be the shows most pivotal room, the Mad Hatters Tea Party.

Overall I do love these type of events, that blend together an array of artistic ventures, however with only three days of performance time, I wonder if this was a last minute, rushed affair in order to use such a fantastic space. When shows like this are so set dependant, any company attempting such would ideally need a few weeks of preparation to decorate & get inspired by the space. Perhaps this time ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ was a victim of its own hype, with Time Out & London bloggers claiming this would be the next ‘Punchdrunk,’ the next must see experience, to feed the London trend-setters hunger for more alternative Monday morning news at the coffee machine.